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Cape Alava, WA   08/23/08 (Day 680)

Confession time: extremes are irresistible to us. Put “st” on the end of it—highest/deepest/longest/widest/oldest/whateverest—and we’re there. Needless to say, the chance to get to the westernmost point in the lower48 is too much for us to resist, so we head out to Cape Alava.

The seven mile (round trip) trail is a lovely rolling meander through coastal rain forest, almost entirely on a cedar wood boardwalk, sections of which are warped and twisted by the perpetual damp into gorgeous wavy shapes that make it feel like walking on a mini-rollercoaster.

Karen on a stretch of boardwalk that takes us to the westernmost point in the lower 48.

When we reach the cape itself we’re whacked in the face by some of the most pungent-smelling seaweed we’ve ever encountered. It’s low tide and the beach is strewn with the stuff, more than a foot deep in places.

Cape Alva OR
Cape Avala, the westernmost spot in the lower 48.

Just off the coast, very vocal sea lions are sunning themselves on massive boulders that ring an imposing rocky monolith that you used to be able to camp on top of. A juvenile bald eagle throws itself off a massive tree on the inland edge of the sand and circles above us before landing (clumsily) again. Then a man approaches and tells us that an even more impressive animal can be seen further down the neighboring beach—a dead grey whale (the largest mammal on earth!).

After slogging through stinky seaweed for more than a mile we still see no sign of a huge dead whale (something you’d think would be pretty obvious), but a ranger assures us that it’s still further along “but probably pretty rank by now since it’s been dead for three or four weeks.”

We are undeterred and, sure enough, we stumble upon a nearly flesh-free vertebrae the size of a spare tire. Then another vertebrae. Then a rib. Then the entire whale—or what’s left of it.

A whale vertebrae.

Beaten by the surf, ravaged by time and the elements and picked at by countless animals, the poor creature looks more like a truck-sized mound of pink lard than one of the noblest, most mysterious beasts on the planet. What it smells like defies description. As long as we stay upwind it’s bearable but the day has still been the stinkiest ever.

What’s left of a beached grey whale after four weeks on the sand.




** This isn't a normal photo gallery with a slideshow because this post originally appeared on our Airstream blog. **

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